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by Paul Gutjahr


The Forgotten Pope of Presbyterianism

Charles Hodge, once a towering figure in American theology.

One is reminded of just how fickle a mistress Fame is when considering how the renown of certain historical figures only grows with time while the reputations of countless others fade when exposed to the light of posterity. The luster of Charles Hodge's fame has only dimmed with time. Hodge is remembered now chiefly for his boast that nothing new was ever taught at Princeton Seminary. The wooden prose of his massive three-volume Systematic Theology discourages all comers, and when his name is invoked at all, it is frequently as an object lesson in how conservative Calvinism can make one stand still even as the rest of American life and theology rushes by. Names like Finney, Bushnell, Schaff, and Moody pop to mind when the greats of 19th-century American Protestantism are discussed. Hodge is seldom mentioned in the same conversation, although he kept company with all of these men in print or in person during his lifetime.

Indeed, Hodge absolutely towered as a theological figure throughout the 19th century, not only in the United States but in Great Britain as well. For 56 years he taught at Princeton Theological Seminary, wielding such unparalleled influence among conservative Protestant theologians that he earned himself the nickname, "The Pope of Presbyterianism."

Hodge influenced more than a generation of American pastors and laypeople through a number of channels. During his teaching career, he taught more than 3,000 students, many of whom became memorable and important religious figures in their own right. He showed unusual savvy in his ability to manipulate the growing medium of print in the United States. In 1825 he founded the Princeton Review, a theological journal he would direct for nearly five decades while himself contributing more than 200 articles. By the time Hodge stepped down as editor in 1871, the Princeton Review stood as the second oldest quarterly publication in the United States, and enjoyed such an international reputation that the British Quarterly ...

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